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Ohio Senate President Says A Mask Mandate For All Schools Would Be Overturned

Masked students sit in a classroom at Worthington Kilbourne High School near Columbus in March 2021.
Dan Konik
/
Ohio Public Radio
Masked students sit in a classroom at Worthington Kilbourne High School near Columbus in March 2021.

Leaders at the state's children’s hospitals have said they’re worried about rising cases of COVID in kids, with nearly half of all Ohio students not required to wear masks in schools. But that’s unlikely to change unless local officials make decisions to implement their own mandates.

There won’t be a statewide mask mandate for Ohio schools, according to Gov. Mike DeWine. He said that’s not because he doesn’t want one, but because Republican legislators who have supermajorities in both the House and Senate will invoke a new law giving them the power to overturn his health orders.

“It’s clear that, they’ve made it very clear that if we put a mask order on, they’re going to come out and take that off," DeWine said. "If I thought otherwise, I would certainly have taken action myself.”

But Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman said his fellow Republican has read the room correctly.

“I don't think there is any push or anyone in favor, at least in the Senate Republican caucus, I shouldn't say anyone, I haven’t asked everybody, but there's very little likelihood that the Senate Republican caucus is going to support a mask mandate for public schools," Huffman said.

Huffman said schools are free to impose mandates. A third of all districts have, including the state’s largest districts, so 54% of Ohio public school students are required to be masked in class.

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And though medical experts worried about COVID spread in kids are pushing for masks in schools, Huffman said if superintendents don’t want to require masks, it’s not up to the legislature to change that.

DeWine said he’s told districts that they can institute temporary mask mandates to be removed when the surge of COVID cases in children subsides.

While some, including Dayton mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Nan Whaley, have called for DeWine to issue a mask mandate and then go to court over it, DeWine has said that might confuse people.

The law that allows the General Assembly to rescind a governor’s health order was vetoed by DeWine after it passed in March, and that veto was promptly rejected. Only Republicans voted for the veto override, with one House Republican and two Republican Senators voted against the override.

The law, Senate Bill 22, is similar to a bill passed in the last General Assembly in December. DeWine vetoed that, but the legislature didn't attempt a veto override before the session ended at the close of 2020.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.